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The Sound of Breaking Glass, Part I: Spontaneity and Consciousness in Revolutionary Theory

I paint this way because I can’t join the shooting in Santo Domingo.

—Ricardo Carreira (1965)

In 1968 the Argentine artist Graciela Carnevale presented a new work entitled Acción del Encierro (Confinement Action) as part of the Ciclo de Arte Experimental exhibition in Rosario, organized by the Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia de Rosario. The work was participatory, drawing on the then-emerging genres of performance art, installation, and happenings. Once the audience members had assembled in the gallery space the artist departed, locking the door behind her. In preparing the space beforehand Carnevale had covered the glass wall at the front of the gallery with posters, further isolating and confining the visitors. In a recent interview with historian and critic Fabian Cerejido, Carnevale explained that she had hoped to incite a form of “exemplary violence” among the participants, who would be forced to take action once they realized their plight, by breaking through the gallery’s glass front door. This action would effectively empower the audience members, moving them from a state of passive acquiescence to conscious agency. The act of breaking the glass, and the self-liberation of the audience, had particular significance in Argentina at the time of Carnevale’s work. Less than two years earlier, General Juan Carlos Onganía had taken power in a coup d’etat, overthrowing elected president Arturo Illia. Within a matter of weeks Onganía’s Federal Police had ruthlessly suppressed protests at the University of Buenos Aires, beating and jailing professors and students in the notorious La Noche de los Bastones Largos (Night of the Long Batons). Shortly after the Encierroaction, Carnevale herself participated in the famous Tucuman Arde project in Rosario, which was closed down by the police.

During periods of political repression the relationship between aesthetics and politics, and between private and public expression, undergoes both erosion and reconsolidation. In the case of Carnevale’s Acción del Encierro, the struggle to break free of physical confinement was presumed to exist in a corollary relationship with the struggle against political repression. In the event, none of the participants was willing or able to break the glass from inside the locked gallery. Instead, they required the assistance of a sympathetic passerby who, upon seeing the distressed faces of the participants, managed to break through the glass to free them. At this point, as Cerejido discovered in his interview with Carnevale, one of the artist’s friends, who had remained inside with the crowd to monitor their reactions, assaulted the well-meaning passerby with an umbrella. Apparently, he was angry that the good Samaritan had interrupted the performance before the audience members reached the state of desperation necessary to force them into action.] presented Encierro, the piece documented in the photograph that I saw in Kassel. For this piece she told me in the interview, it was her intention to induce the people into exemplary ‘liberating violence.’ The liberating violence was spiked by some elements of screwball comedy. The exterior wall and the door of the gallery were made of glass. Once the people were inside, Carnevale locked the door from outside. The glass was covered with posters that the trapped public (most of them students) proceeded to remove. Then a group attempted to take apart the hinges. A man that was passing by, seeing the desperation in some of the faces inside, broke the glass wall to let them out. At this point an artist friend who was inside as a mole, disappointed by the actions of the rescuer, hit him with an umbrella. There was pushing and shoving, angry insults and the noise of broken glass. It happened to be October ninth, the first anniversary of Che’s assassination in Bolivia and the police were particularly alert. Soon a police battalion intervened and closed down the exhibit.” Fabian Cerejido, Assured Pasts or Gambled Futures: Contrasting Approaches to Context in Selected Twentieth Century Mexican and Argentine Art Practices (UCSD, Ph.D. in Art History, Theory and Criticism, 2010), 67.] As a result of the ensuing tumult, the police soon arrived and closed the gallery.

Read the full article here.